Night + Market's
Kris and Sarah

Friends & Family

Dec 4th, 2017

Photography by David Kitz

In anticipation of the opening of the new restaurant Night + Market Sahm (which means three in Thai) in Venice, and on the heels of the release of the first Night + Market cookbook, Jen Mankins sat down with award-winning chef Kris Yenbamroong to discuss family, food, NYC vibes and the perfect color pink. 

Bird Brooklyn: You grew up in and around your family's restaurant business in Los Angeles. Have you always embraced food and cooking? Did you know you would carry on the family tradition? Did you have a hell no, I will never do that phase?

Kris Yenbamroong: As far back as I can remember, food has always been a huge part of my life. We lived in a house with extended family, and there were always Thai feasts happening. My father also took me out to eat as often as he could, which meant a pretty early introduction to Sushi and pasta. I always had a feeling in my heart that I would be involved in the family business at some point. Of course, growing up in the restaurant, I was pulled in to help both in the dining room as well as the kitchen. So I had experience. However, I think it’s pretty natural for young people to want to veer as far as possible from family tradition. I moved to NYC for film school, and stayed there for four years after I graduated. It definitely informed how I approach the way I work with the restaurant. I don’t believe I could have created Night + Market without my time in NYC. 

BB: Night + Market and especially Night + Market Song are incredibly vibrant, colorful, boisterous and fun restaurants and dining experiences. It's like hanging out at your coolest best friend's house, and he happens to be one of the best Thai chefs in the country. I mean I have never not run into friends and people I love when dining there. How do you actively create those environments and what do you do to continue the packed, house-party vibe? 
KY: In one of our reviews, the critic said that Night + Market feels like a high school project entitled: “Restaurant.” That’s pretty much what it is, in that it’s my vision of what a restaurant could and should be. It extends to the visual cues, the music, the uniforms, the shirts that we make, the signage which all come from my head. For better or for worse, we have never worked with a designer. It’s not that we’re against it in any way! But, I have a strong sense of how I want the restaurants to feel, and this way it is more direct coming straight from me. In terms of the social atmosphere of the restaurants, it was a goal of mine to create the sort of place you could meet up with your friends on a random Tuesday night and also run into people that you want to run into. I feel that this sort of thing comes from my NYC days where it was not uncommon to run into half a dozen people you know walking from the subway to work. A lot of it has to do with the people we hire, and my wife Sarah being on the floor as an impresario of sorts. We talk a lot with our team about the idea that when we go into service, we are actually throwing a party. 

BB: West siders are excited because you are about to open a new location in Venice. What's the most important thing you have learned from your first two restaurants that you will bring to this new location? What has dictated the design of the new space?
KY: The most important lesson that I have learned is to keep it simple. In fact “Keep it Simple” is tattooed on my arm as a daily reminder. For a long time I wanted to do something drastically different from the other two restaurants for the Venice location, but after speaking to guests it became clear that everyone was just super excited to have a Night + Market restaurant on the westside. The other concepts I had in mind are still on the burner, but awaiting appropriate locations. The space was a restaurant prior to us taking it over, and it came with these sloped windows and stone-lined planters in front along with a 12-foot tropical fish tank inside. We were drawn to these elements, but knew we could transform it into a Night + Market. We painted the whole building pink, including the rocks. It’s our signature color. Sarah came up with the idea to have a  teal-colored sign because the hue is beach-y. A lot of Night + Market trends will crossover including the orange and blue walls, the floral table cloths, and neon signs. 

BB: What are the most popular/longest lasting items on your menu? What are the items that you will never stop making?
KY: The Crispy Rice Salad is by far our most popular dish. It exists in the Thai country-side in a sort of rustic, very meaty, preparation. To me, it always had the potential to be a very pop-y, bright, vibrant, LA salad and that’s what we’ve made it. A lot of chefs around town have asked me to show them how to make crispy rice. I tell people that it’s a great pantry item to add to dishes for texture. The recipe is pretty simple, and it’s featured in our cookbook. No matter how many restaurants we open or dinners we cater, Crispy Rice is always on the menu! 

BB: Speaking of the cookbook, it's incredible! It really captures the ethos of the restaurant and I think will really help expand what home chefs are able and willing to try out. What inspired you to write it?
KY: I really did not feel like there was a cookbook that addressed all of the concerns that are near and dear to Night + Market. That is cooking real-deal Thai food with bold flavors in a way that’s relevant to Angelinos. We wanted to make a cookbook that was true to what we do, yet straightforward and accessible for the home cook. 

BB: You have an estimable professional partnership with your wife Sarah St. Lifer. What is it like working together?
KY: It’s a real collaboration. We’re constantly thinking of ways to keep Night + Market fresh and fun for guests. For example, she’s encouraged me to look back on my grandmother’s original menu for Talesai for inspiration. Guests love it because the dishes fall somewhere between authentic and fusion — which is the way people are eating right now. I’ll run design ideas by Sarah, and she’ll provide feedback or have her own opinions. I’m very lucky to have someone who understands the sort of restaurant experience I want to create, and who is is able to help execute it.